This week we are talking about one of my favorite parts of a trip - where to stay. This one can make or break your vacation. There are four main options I'd like to review:
1. Hotels/ motels/ Inns: there are a lot of sources of deals for a regular hotel room. I would make sure you sign up for all the loyalty programs. They often offer easy ways to earn points for free nights. I am a member of all of them, but I tend to stay loyal to the Holiday Inn Priority Points program. I have a VISA that earns me points and when I travel for business I try to stay in a Holiday Inn property if possible. It is super easy to redeem points in this program - in fact I have never been blocked out at all. Also, if you stay in a Holiday Inn Express it typically only takes 15,000 points and you'll get a free breakfast also.
If you don't have points I would try a similar method of booking a room as I explained with airfare. First check http://www.travelocity.com/ or http://www.expedia.com/ to find the properties located where you are staying. Find the best price, then call the hotel directly to see if they can offer you something better. Often they can. Another alternative is to log onto the hotel website and see if they have a web only deal. If you aren't sure where to stay (in a city you don't know it can be especially hard) check out some of the travel boards like http://www.frommers.com/ or http://www.fodors.com/ and get some advice. Other moneysavers are http://www.entertainmentbook.com/ or Triple AAA.
2. Timeshares: If it's just my husband and myself on a trip, we usually stay in a hotel (using points), but if it's the whole family, we usually use our timeshares. I know what you are thinking - there is no way a $25,000 timeshare is a moneysaver. However, if you do your research, you can buy a resale timeshare for about $1500 - $7000 depending upon the brand. This is what we did. I spent a good year researching my options using resources such as http://www.tug2.net/ and determined exactly what I wanted to buy (for me it was Fairfield points). Then, I went onto ebay and started bidding. It probably took me a dozen auctions before I won one at the price I wanted, but I did eventually pick one up for $1500. Because my system is Fairfield I can trade in my points in increments as low as 28,000 to RCI in exchange for weeks at other properties in their system. I probably couldn't get Hawaii at that exchange, but I've had no trouble picking up 1 or 2 bedrooms in Orlando, Michigan, etc. In fact, through the board I mentioned above along with a board specific to Fairfield, I've managed to figure out how to stretch my one week into 3 to 5 weeks a year. Adding in maintenance fees, RCI exchange fees, etc. it ends up costing us about $360 a week. This is for a very nice, 1 - 2 bedroom condo with pools, activities, etc. If you can't afford the maintenance fees or aren't interesting in committing, you can typically rent a timeshare on ebay, http://www.redweek.com or http://www.tug2.net.
3. Friends/ Family I'll be honest, to me this isn't really a vacation, but it can help cut costs! A good example is our last trip to Florida. We drove and since it's a 15 hour drive, we stopped and stayed for two nights with friends in Altanta (about halfway). We had a nice visit, the kids played and it broke up the drive. If you do stay with others, please be a thoughtful guest and pick up after yourself, bring along a nice housewarming gift and take the family out for a meal!
4. Camping We aren't big campers, but this is a viable way to take a very inexpensive vacation. You will need a tent, but you can usually borrow one, pick one up at a garage sale or even on clearance at a discount store. Other than the tent, you can make do with what you have at home - blankets, pillows instead of sleeping bags, a cooler for food, etc. No need to go spend a fortune on expensive camping gear.
I know I just touched the surface in this post, but I hope I've shared some viable options of ways to find a great, inexpensive place to stay for your trip. If there is any interest, I'd be happy to delve futher into any of these topics in a future post.